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Opinion

The prime minister’s voice shouldn’t be the only one being heard

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In an election environment, it’s important to speak with one voice. So say the Liberals, who allegedly cracked down on former diplomats who were speaking their mind about China.

On July 30, the House Foreign Affairs Committee sat down to talk about a request from opposition members that the group study the details of that crack down, as laid out by The Globe and Mail on July 24. The original story said that David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, was contacted by a public servant at Global Affairs who said they were passing on a message from the Prime Minister’s Office that he check with them before making any public statements about China and the ongoing dispute between the two nations. A second former diplomat to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, was later reported to have had the same type of contact instigated by the PMO.

“These attempts to silence and intimidate the prime minister’s critics evoke similar circumstances that occurred throughout the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the prime minister’s treatment of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman,” said the July 26 letter to the clerk. “It is also part of a pattern of behaviour by the PMO to blame top civil servants for the Liberal government’s own incompetence and poor judgement, as demonstrated during Prime Minister Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India, which created a diplomatic crises.”

Given the Liberal majority on the committee, it wasn’t a surprise how that committee meeting ultimately turned out. In their letter, opposition MPs said that if a study were successfully launched, they wanted to hear from Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, the two diplomats, as well as the Global Affairs messenger, Paul Thoppil, the assistant deputy minister for Asia-Pacific. 

On July 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denied that his office told former diplomats to clear their statements with them first. “I can confirm that the PMO did not direct that to happen,” he told reporters in Vancouver. Others with more patience for semantics will parse those words, but they were enough to have the Liberal caucus falling in line. The five Grit members of the nine-person committee easily shot down the request to study the matter, seeing as the prime minister said it’s “case closed.”

This is a common practice with this government—deny, deny, deny the charge, and deny any attempt to get more information. The House Justice Committee’s examination of the claims by former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould that she experienced undue pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office and other high-ranking ministerial officials to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin was practically an anomaly.

Sure, it can be construed as a waste of time and simply providing the opposition a soapbox upon which to grandstand and proselytize, but if there’s truly “nothing to see here,” then let them have their study. If these matters are as baseless as the Liberals claim, there shouldn’t be any fear in airing them publicly. But, in an election environment, it’s apparently important to speak with one voice—and that voice is the prime minister’s, saying “no.”

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